#22 – Nuclear War

#26 – Vonnegut, Adams, and Modern Satire A Reader's History of Science Fiction

While many early works of proto-sci-fi were satires like Gulliver's Travels, satirical works also appear in modern sci-fi. In this episode, we take a look at the two most famous authors of this subgenre, Kurt Vonnegut and Douglas Adams. Book recommendation: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut's letter to his family during World War II. Other works discussed: Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  1. #26 – Vonnegut, Adams, and Modern Satire
  2. #25 – Strange New Worlds
  3. #24 – The New Dystopias
  4. #23 – Overpopulation and Environmental Collapse
  5. #22 – Nuclear War

The Cold War brought with it new tales of nuclear war in science fiction, both in the early days of the 50s and 60s, and later, when fears began to rise again. In this episode, we look at the highlights of these stories and how they vary widely in how they address the consequences of nuclear war.

Book recommendation: Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank.

The Office of Technology Assessment’s 1979 nuclear war study.

Other works mentioned:
On the Beach by Nevil Shute (un-recommended)
A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
Dr. Strangelove
Fail Safe
The
Postman by David Brin
The Day After
WarGames

Check out this episode!

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TV Review: Cosmos: Possible Worlds

Cosmos Possible Worlds title card.jpg

Last fall, I posted about the newest season of Cosmos, “Possible Worlds.” That post only covered the first two episodes, since it was the premier night (on broadcast). I was going to update every couple weeks, but with all the chaos of the election season and November being the busiest month of the year in my line of work, it just never happened. Then, I was waiting for the last episodes so I could do the whole season, but they never aired.

Except they did. I didn’t figure out until weeks after the fact that they changed up the schedule on me. (Cough. Firefly. Cough.) Episodes 10, 11, and 13 were aired on Mondays instead of the usual Tuesdays, and I never heard about the change because I rarely watch TV outside of a few specific shows. It was especially confusing because Episode 12 still aired on a Tuesday. Something about holiday scheduling, maybe?

Anyway, after having watched the remaining episodes, I can finally post my review of Cosmos: Possible Worlds.

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#21 – Apocalypse How?

#26 – Vonnegut, Adams, and Modern Satire A Reader's History of Science Fiction

While many early works of proto-sci-fi were satires like Gulliver's Travels, satirical works also appear in modern sci-fi. In this episode, we take a look at the two most famous authors of this subgenre, Kurt Vonnegut and Douglas Adams. Book recommendation: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut's letter to his family during World War II. Other works discussed: Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  1. #26 – Vonnegut, Adams, and Modern Satire
  2. #25 – Strange New Worlds
  3. #24 – The New Dystopias
  4. #23 – Overpopulation and Environmental Collapse
  5. #22 – Nuclear War

In the 1950s and 60s, disaster and apocalyptic stories became prominent. However, the earliest ones could get pretty weird. It this episode, we take a look at the fantastic apocalypses that gave way to more realistic ones later on.

Book recommendation: The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham.

Other books mentioned:
I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
The Wind from Nowhere by J. G. Ballard
The Drowned World by J. G. Ballard
The Burning World by J. G. Ballard
The Crystal World by J. G. Ballard

Check out this episode!

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Writer’s History #1 – Max Hawthorne Interview

#26 – Vonnegut, Adams, and Modern Satire A Reader's History of Science Fiction

While many early works of proto-sci-fi were satires like Gulliver's Travels, satirical works also appear in modern sci-fi. In this episode, we take a look at the two most famous authors of this subgenre, Kurt Vonnegut and Douglas Adams. Book recommendation: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut's letter to his family during World War II. Other works discussed: Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  1. #26 – Vonnegut, Adams, and Modern Satire
  2. #25 – Strange New Worlds
  3. #24 – The New Dystopias
  4. #23 – Overpopulation and Environmental Collapse
  5. #22 – Nuclear War

For my first interview on the show, I spoke to Max Hawthorne, author of the paleo-fiction thriller, Kronos Rising, about his writing and his experiences with science fiction as a whole.

Max’s website.
Max’s peer-reviewed scientific paper on Plesiosaurs.

Max’s book recommendations:
The Bug Wars by Robert Asprin
Hiero’s Journey by Sterling Lanier

Check out this episode!

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New Video: The Recamán Sequence

The Recamán sequence, or more properly Recamán’s sequence, is one of the more unusual sequences to make the rounds in the internet math community. The way it works is that the first term in the sequence is 1. Then, for each term, you either add or subtract the number of that term from the previous one. There are two rules to this.

First, the numbers have be greater than 0. So for the 2nd term is 1+2=3. The 3rd term is 3+3=6. But the 4th term is 6-4=2. Second, if you subtract, the resulting number may not have appeared in the sequence before. You can include repeats when you add (otherwise, you’d get stuck), but not when you subtract. So the next term is 2+5=7. But then, you can’t subtract 7-6=1 because that there’s already a 1 in the sequence. Instead, you have to add 7+6=13.

This sequence was featured in a video by the YouTube channel Numberphile in 2018, which gave an interesting visualization of the sequence by connecting each term to the next one on the number line with a semicircle, which gave an interesting swirly pattern like the one below:

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#20 – Philip K. Dick

#26 – Vonnegut, Adams, and Modern Satire A Reader's History of Science Fiction

While many early works of proto-sci-fi were satires like Gulliver's Travels, satirical works also appear in modern sci-fi. In this episode, we take a look at the two most famous authors of this subgenre, Kurt Vonnegut and Douglas Adams. Book recommendation: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut's letter to his family during World War II. Other works discussed: Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  1. #26 – Vonnegut, Adams, and Modern Satire
  2. #25 – Strange New Worlds
  3. #24 – The New Dystopias
  4. #23 – Overpopulation and Environmental Collapse
  5. #22 – Nuclear War

Despite his often inconsistent writing, Philip K. Dick is notable for having more film adaptations of his novels and short stories than almost every other sci-fi author, making him one of the most important writers of the New Wave. Here, we explore an overview of his work.

Book recommendation: Time Out of Joint

Ryan Britt on Dick’s writing style.

Other books mentioned:
The Man in the High Castle
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
A Scanner Darkly

Check out this episode!

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Happy Science Fiction Day!

https://cdn.britannica.com/11/181411-050-10349E6C/Isaac-Asimov.jpg

Today, January 2, is the observed birthday* of Isaac Asimov, one of the most prolific science fiction (and science fact) authors of the twentieth century.

In Asimov’s honor, January 2 is celebrated each year as National Science Fiction Day. (Which honestly feels like a questionable move because it’s so overshadowed by New Year’s Day.) So, kick back with some Star Trek or something as we ease in to the task of trying to make sense out of 2021. Enjoy!

* Asimov’s actual birthdate is uncertain because he was born to a Russian Jewish family in 1919-1920, and there were several different calendars to complicate things. He may have been born as early as October 4, 1919, but January 2 is the day he celebrated.

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What Is the Equation for the Strong Nuclear Force?

Previously, I described how the weak nuclear force really is a force even though it’s almost never described as one. Instead of a simple inverse square law like gravity and electromagnetism, it decays exponentially so that it weakens over a very short distance.

But there’s one more piece to this puzzle. At the popular science level, no one ever explains what the equation for the strong nuclear force is, either. It does have one, and it’s simple enough to explain, but no one ever mentions it, which is a shame because it’s actually kind of cool.

This equation is called the “Cornell potential” or the “funnel potential”:

Here, α and σ are constants associated with the strong force. The main function of the strong force is that it holds the quarks inside a proton or neutron together. It holds atomic nuclei together, too, but that’s a side effect. The Cornell potential tells us how this works when we take a derivative to convert it to a force:

The first part of this is an inverse square law. In other words, inside a proton or neutron meson, quarks actually undergo a gluon-mediated scattering interaction governed by an inverse square law just like Coulomb’s law. The difference is that there’s a second term in the equation, and it’s a constant. Regardless of the distance between them, two “unpaired” quarks will be attracted to each other with a constant force on top of the inverse square law of about 10,000 newtons[1] (which is a weirdly normal-sounding number equal to about one ton of force).

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How Is the Weak Nuclear Force an Actual Force?

Fundamental Forces
“Of these four forces, there’s one we don’t really understand.” “Is it the weak force or the strong—” “It’s gravity.”

It’s time for another physics explainer. In an earlier post, I explained Lagrangian mechanics and why it uses the weird (to physicists) equation L=T-V. I thought I might do some more posts like that, and I found a topic that should make a good one. So, let’s jump over to nuclear physics and figure out what on Earth is going on with the weak nuclear force.

Physics says there are four fundamental forces of nature. There’s gravity, which pulls masses toward one another. There’s electromagnetism, which pulls opposite electric charges toward each other (and pushes like charges apart). There’s the strong nuclear force, which holds the quarks together inside protons and neutrons. And then, there’s the weak nuclear force, which…causes radioactive decay?[1]

♫♪ One of these things is not like the others. ♫♪

In any popular science book or really even undergraduate textbooks (to my memory), you’ll see the four forces described this way, and you may be thinking: “Wait a minute, one of those isn’t actually a force.” Three of the fundamental forces are described how forces are always supposed to be described: by how they push or pull on particles. But the weak force isn’t. It causes this other process to happen, and no one ever mentions it pushing or pulling.

Imagine if someone said, “Gravity is a force that makes things change shape.” And it’s true; gravity makes stars and planets form into spheres, and it makes a raindrop splatter into a pancake on the ground. But that sentence is still completely missing the point (even if it doesn’t sound like total nonsense). It would be silly to talk about gravity just making things change shape and not even mention the main aspect of it—the actual force part of it—which is that it pulls masses together.

That’s how weird it sounds to me to say, “The weak nuclear force causes radioactive decay.” So, what gives? Well, that’s what I’m hoping to explain with this post.

(And I’ll get to the strong force in the next post. Ironically, that one is more complicated, even though it sounds simpler.)

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Flat Earth Challenge Follow-Up: Refraction

One year ago today, I posted a Challenge to Flat Earthers on this blog. I proposed an experiment that could photograph the curvature of the Earth directly without having to worry about camera distortions, which is what Flat Earthers usually point to to explain away such images. If you hold a ruler against the horizon in view of the camera, it will give you an absolute standard for what is straight. With a ruler to measure against, you don’t have to be at the edge of space, but only up in an airplane to see a little bit of curvature in the horizon.

I was going to put my proverbial money where my mouth is and do this experiment myself the next time I flew, but then 2020 hit, so I haven’t flown since then–nor have I have any takers on the challenge.

However, this is about a different topic. I admitted in that post that there is one other thing that could cause an apparent curvature in the horizon: refraction. Refraction is the bending of light through…anything, really, but in this case, it’s mostly to do with air. In various weather conditions, air can bend light so that distant objects appear higher or lower than they should be. This is the basis for a various phenomena that are colloquially called mirages.[1] Refraction can also make the horizon appear lower than it really is, and thus the edge of a flat disk would look more curved that it should be.

More generally, one thing Flat Earthers like to say, possibly the clearest[2] positive evidence to support their claims,[3] is that they can take photographs that show distant objects that should be behind the horizon.

Take this photo of the Chicago skyline, for example. It taken from the other side of Lake Michigan, 60 miles (100 km) away. If you do the math, the skyline should be behind the horizon on a round Earth. What’s going on?

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